Beyond "Seclusionist" Japan: Evaluating the Free Afghans/Refugee Law Reform Campaign after September 11

Article excerpt

Abstract

Following the events of September 11, Japan renewed its stance against terrorism and aggressively stepped up regulations against aliens including asylum seekers. Responding to the post-September 11 detention of Afghan asylum seekers, citizens of all walks of life joined forces. The Free Afghan Refugees movement not only succeeded in releasing detainees, but also broke new ground by pushing for reform of the Japanese asylum system for the first time in the twenty-one years since the Refugee Recognition Act was enacted. The success and propagation of their activism is a reflection of the maturity attained by the refugee rights movement in Japan, and the increased awareness among citizens about world issues. On an unprecedented scale, citizens are questioning the government's efforts to maintain a homogeneous social order.

Resume

A la suite des attentats du 11 septembre, le Japon a reitere sa position contre le terrorisme et a vigoureusement renforce ses reglements contre les etrangers, y compris les demandeurs d'asile. Cependant, lorsque des demandeurs d'asile afghans ont ete detenus apres le 11 septembre, des citoyens provenant de routes les couches sociales ont fait cause commune. Le mouvement << Liberez les refugies afghans >> (<< Free Afghan Refugees >>) reussit non seulement obtenir la liberation des detenus, mais innova aussi en reclamant la reforme du systeme d'asile japonais pour la premiere fois depuis les 21 armies d'existence de la Loi sur la reconnaissance des refugies (<< Refugee Recognition Act >>). Le succes et la propagation du militantisme attestent du degre de maturite atteint par le mouvement pour les droits des refugies au Japon et de la sensibilisation accrue des citoyens envers les grandes questions mondiales. Comme jamais auparavant, les citoyens remettent en question les efforts du gouvernement pour preserver un ordre social homogene.

   Ever since I was a kid, I'd always imagined that Japan was the
   most peaceful country in the world ... I was taught that after
   the Hiroshima bombing, Japanese people came to love peace.
   Ever since I was born I've seen nothing but war. I grew up seeing
   people being killed right in front of me.... (1)

   I thought if I came to Japan, I would be safe and would be able
   to make a future for myself. But instead, as soon as I arrived here
   I was detained and treated like a criminal.... All we think about
   is our family. We don't know where they are, how they are ...
   whether they are alive or dead ... All we can do while in
   detention is to keep watching the horrible news on TV about
   the US bombing our hometown ... We just hope and pray
   nothing has happened to them. (Afghan detainee, Hazara, male,
   in his twenties). (2)

   Right after September 11th, I found out that one of my acquaintances
   was killed in the World Trade Center. I thought something
   was wrong with this world and started to become involved
   in social activism for the first time in my life. That is how I came
   to know about detained Afghan asylum seekers. Until then, I
   was just an "ordinary citizen." When I heard the term "refugees,"
   I just imagined these people starving in the refugee camps
   in Asia and Africa. They are part of something happening far
   away from me. I would never have thought that there are people
   who come to Japan seeking "asylum." ... But look at me now,

   I'm in the middle of the Free Afghan refugee movement ...
   Why? Because I came to realize that my life, which I take for
   granted, exists at the expense of these people ... A society not
   livable for refugees is not livable for us Japanese, either.
   (Japanese businessman, in his thirties). (3)

The first comment was made by an Afghan asylum seeker who was detained by the Japanese immigration bureau for seven months, and the second comment was made by a young Japanese activist who became involved in the movement to free them after September 11. …